One of the more lamentable facts about modern indoor arenas is that, unlike their outdoor brethren, most arenas do nothing to celebrate the environments and neighborhoods in which they reside. Cold and insular, arenas are all about focusing on the floor or action. Attempts to draw attention to the crowd such as the “Kiss Cam” are token distractions. Get in the crowd, get the show over with, and get everyone out ASAP. There’s no time to linger or savor an event.
It wasn’t always this way. Some of the postwar arenas attempted to bring in the outside. This was best executed at the old Portland Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which still stands next to its much larger successor, the Rose Garden. Memorial Coliseum was a simple, elegant square wrapped on all four sides by glass curtainwall. The round, undulating seating bowl inside the shell provided a clean visual line that gave the building its purpose and indicated where an observer was in relation to the seats.
The pre-1997 Oakland Coliseum Arena also showed this kind of elegance. A larger arena than the one in Portland, the Coliseum Arena boldly used floor-to-ceiling glass, with a concrete exoskeleton to protect it. Like Portland, the rim of the upper seating bowl was clearly visible, though the Warriors and the arena operator chose to use dark curtains to prevent any clerestory effect. Both arenas were designed by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, a firm more known for skyscrapers (Sears/Willis Tower, WTC Freedom Tower) than sports properties.
One of the key directives for the Coliseum Arena renovation was that the building needed to be stuffed with as many seats as possible, since the old 15,025 capacity was great for generating sellouts but poor for generating revenue. So they packed the place to the rafters with seats and redesigned the seating bowl to conform more to basketball instead of the neither-fish-nor-fowl multipurpose seating bowl of yesteryear. Over 4,500 seats were added in the process, an impressive feat of packaging and engineering. Lost in the transformation was the grace of the old design. New concrete entry lobbies were added to the exterior. The regular entrance from the plaza became a club entrance. The glass walls had to be retrofitted, cluttering the look.
In the Warriors’ unveiling of the Piers 30-32 site, the renderings ownership showed had an arena pictured, more as a placeholder than anything else. They were very clear to note that there were no detailed renderings or even a specific design at the moment. Considering the site’s pictureque waterfront locale, a great amount of effort may have to be undertaken to design the building so that patrons can appreciate views of downtown, the Bay Bridge, and the East Bay hills. If that doesn’t happen, the arena may be considered nothing more than a big concrete box. Nobody wants that. I don’t think the W’s will go back to the circular seating bowl, but there are still ways to open up the space to the outside. One way is to do what many new arenas have done – remove some cheap upper end seats, even entire sections.
In addition, the concourses could be laid out to allow views of the action from concession stands. Mind you, implementing some of these ideas could prove costly because they may translate into greater amounts of costly square-footage being built to satisfy the vision. The W’s should know by now that they have a chance to build a truly iconic building, and to skimp would be wrong and practically indefensible. Arena architecture is not known for looking backward or in a retro manner. In this case there’s truly something to be learned from looking at the past, and it can only result in a better arena, one that celebrates everything happening outside its walls just as much as the events inside those walls.